As I Was Driving Home
As I was driving home from Joshua Tree on a recent Saturday afternoon after a silk screening workshop for a project I’m involved with I thought of how vibrant, fresh, and innocent the young marines who attended the workshop are. I felt the joy still in my heart from sharing such a cool and tender time with them. I could be their grandmother. They could be my grandchildren—maybe the youngest could be my great grandchild if I had pushed it in my youth. It’s probably their first time away from home. I heard one of them talking on his cell phone as he waited for the paint on the screen to dry before flooding it with another color of paint. “I love you, too,” he said almost in a whisper but not quite and then hung up. Must be his mother, I thought. There was no embarrassment, no inhibitions in his voice—only love—and maybe a hint of missing home cooking a little. Or not.
They are so young, so fresh, so Marine, really. Hopeful, focused, determined to do their best. Huah… I could feel the closeness, their camaraderie untainted. Maybe they were happy to be off base, on a Saturday morning, playtime with an art project. No one was yelling at them drop to the ground and give them a hundred or run another mile or twenty. They weren’t standing guard through the middle of the night; afraid they might fall asleep and let their buddies down. They are so new to the corps their enlistment papers are still wet with ink. They can’t leave base without piling into a white van and driven to a class. Babies. Young blood. Unscarred flesh. Untainted.
And then I thought of the combat veterans I have worked with at the Domiciliary on the base of a Veterans Hospital. Young men who fought in Mosul, the Sunni Triangle when it was red hot, Baghdad, Kabul. Teenagers who drove a bulldozer and scooped up piles of dead bodes with the blade, and then piled them on an unnamed street. Young men who banged down doors, guns pointing, rustling and screaming. Young men who loved manning their tank because it was their home, their lover, enjoying killing the enemy but hating the enemy who killed their buddies. Shooting the Iraqi man who stood on the side of the long road because fate was watching. But I heard only snippets because most of these OIF and OEF are afraid to talk for fear of being prosecuted for war crimes. Afraid to write in their notebooks because someone might be looking, someone might steal their pages away from them… and then what?
These Gulf War and OIF and OEF combat veterans who wandered in and out of the writing workshop in the basement of the Domiciliary are not much older than the young marines who attended the silk screening workshop.
Then suddenly, I saw those fresh faces, their eyes still looking at the world through an innocent lens, distorted, morphing into the young combat veterans walking into the room in the basement, dragging their ripped and torn souls behind them—if they were lucky to still have their soul hanging on by a thread. Some of them lost their souls in Mosul. In the Sunni Triangle. Ramadi. Ripped away, burned away, IEDd away.
A deep sigh…
If people, the voters, the politicians, the ones who follow the leader saw what I see—how fast would they vote to go to war? Would they let their daughter in combat? Would they so easily pat their neighbor’s child on the back with a “Good boy” then shove them into battle?
How many young souls need to be ripped apart, shredded and tossed aside before we steer away from war?
I hope those young fresh Marines—our children—don’t go to war. I hope in the future they aren’t labeled combat veterans and admitted into the Domiciliary, where they will be numbed with drugs, dosed with anger meds so they won’t feel their anger, feeling like a caged animal who wants to lie down and die, or gnaw at the metal bars until they don’t have anything left inside.
I hope we as a nation wake up and see what we’re doing. I hope we take our responsibility as a citizen and make wiser choices. I hope those child Marines make it home in one piece, walk inside the house whole, their souls intact and kiss their mamas and daddies hello.